President Obama is either crushing Mitt Romney with an 8-point lead nationally, or Romney has just edged Obama for a 1-point lead. No one knows which to believe and even the savviest poll-readers are confused. Pew Research Center finds Obama leading Romney 51 percent to 43 percent among likely voters. Rasmussen Reports finds Romney ahead 47 percent to 46 percent among likely voters. And there are several polls in between. Two polls find Obama leading Romney 47 percent to 46 percent. Another gives Obama a 3-point lead. Another puts his lead at 5 points. "The. Polls. Have. Stopped. Making. Any. Sense," The New York Times's Nate Silver tweets. What's going on?
First, what's not going on: a skewed sample of Republicans and Democrats. As The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza explains, people often ask why polls include more Democrats than Republicans in their surveys. The answer is because there are more people who say they're Democrats. The reason probably isn't bounce from the party conventions, either, as Silver explains the tracking polls show the bounces are gone.
One explanation might be that there are a lot of big news events happening right now. After last week's anti-American protests in the Middle East and the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, Obama's approval rating on foreign policy dropped 5 points, according to NBC's poll. Gallup reported Wednesday that while the plurality of voters -- 43 percent -- say Romney's "47 percent" comments won't change how they vote, independents viewed the comments negatively. Among those voters, 29 percent said it made them less likely to vote for Romney, while 15 percent said they'd be more likely to vote for him. Gallup warns, "Still, the long-term impact of any news event that flares up in the heat of a presidential campaign is difficult to determine."
Update: More clues: Pew's strong showing for Obama might be because it's a poll of likely voters, not registered voters, and it finds a big spike in Democratic enthusiasm, the Huffington Post's Mark Blumenthal notes. Usually, Republicans vote at a higher rate. And Times's Nate Silver says Obama tends to have a stronger lead in polls that call cell phone users -- which are often young people.